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Features of the Welsh Meters


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The ancient Welsh Meters are primarily written in stanza form. In studying these forms there are a few terms not commonly used or used differently in Welsh poetry that probably should be addressed. In reality, Welsh meters are very language specific and one can only attempt to duplicate the meters when writing in English.

  • cymeriad, (memory) is the repetition of the first consonant of the opening line at the beginning of successive lines. Welsh poets often begin each line of a stanza or even a whole poem with the same letter, syllable, or word.
  • cynghanedd, keen-hăn-ded (harmony of sound) all of Welsh poetry is said to be written in cynghannedd. The harmony of Welsh poetry is accomplished through the controlled echoing of sounds through alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition, half rhyme and internal rhyme. These sounds are meant to offset any over-emphasis of the main rhyme, to create a balance of sound. The Official 24 Meters are cynghannedd gaeth (strict harmony), with scripted use of poetic devices. Cynghannedd rydd (free harmony) is the free use of devices within a scripted form. Welsh poetry is meant to be heard not read.

    Most know that in English, alliteration, assonance and consonance are normally contained within a line. In Welsh poetry, one can criss-cross within a stanza and are not always contained within a line. To alliterate is to match the initial stressed consonant sounds, assonance is matched vowel sounds, and consonance, simplified, is matching end consonant sounds.

    The following is a more complicated observation of consonance if you want to read on. Definitions of consonance or slant rhyme seem to wander all over the place. According to Lewis Turco's, Book of Forms, "to consonate is to create a compatible or similar sound, to agree or harmonize". It appears most often in matching end consonants, but not always. The easiest to identify is first and last consonant of the word, also called frame-rhyme or para-rhyme (bike / bake). Consonance assumes all vowel sounds are interchangeable, as are some consonant sounds, but it distinguishes between the soft and hard sounds of consonants created by proximity to other consonants. (e.g. the soft sound of g in "page" and the harder sound of the dg in "edge").

    There are 3 classes of cynghanedd:
    • cynghanedd gystain (consonantal harmony) consists of multiple alliterations. A common form of gystain is cynghanedd groes which is the repetition of the first consonant of each word in the same sequence within the line ( take my letter / to my lady ) This example is balanced with the same stresses in each phrase and it can become complicated by changing the stresses. Another form of the gystain, cynghanedd draws, separates the groes sequences by un-echoed consonants. ( take my letter, in haste, to my lady).
    • cynghanedd sain is a combination of alliteration and internal rhyme within a line. Two words within the line must rhyme and the 2nd rhymed word must alliterate but not rhyme with the end word. eg. The wrench on the bench is black.
    • cynghanedd lusg only uses internal rhyme and is further complicated by specifying that the penultimate (2nd to last) syllable of the end word, must rhyme with the last syllable of a word in the first half of the same line. These are all further divided by the position of the echo within the line or whether or not the echo is a stressed syllable, the last word of the line must be 2 or more syllables and the stress must fall on the penultimate syllable. eg. Today, we will practice aiming.
  • cyrch-gymeriad, (link-taking) employed to tighten the form, the poet often repeats the last word of a stanza as the first word of the succeeding stanza.
  • cywydd , the exact translation of this word is unknown but, one of the features of the cywydd meters is the traditional alternating of rhymed syllables between stressed and unstressed.  The words "flow" and "follow" might end two consecutive lines, the stressed syllable of flow rhymes with the unstressed syllable of follow.  In English poetics this would be unacceptable, in English the rhyme is on the stressed syllable.

    In Welsh poetry feminine rhyme is common. This may be attributed to the stress pattern of the Welsh language where usually the stress falls on the penultimate or 2nd to last syllable of the word. Often a stressed syllable is rhymed with an unstressed syllable and in the Cywdd Meters this is the norm. This is contrary to English wherein rhyme normally appears between stressed syllable.

  • cywyddau brud (prophetic political poems), politics is a prominent theme of the 15th century, possibly because of the political upheavals occurring at that time.
  • dyfaliad (plural-comparison making), parallels and simile can make up whole poems, dyfalu(singular) is the collection of similitudes. Welsh poetry often weaves epithets line after line without progression or logical order, a stanza or poem of related images without moral or conclusion. Dyfalu also means "to guess" and the poem is often written as a riddle. It is at its best when the poet's mind dwells on an object and rapidly provides fanciful imagery to reveal its nature.
  • gair cyrch, appears as a tail or an addendum to a line; it is the last few syllables of a 10 syllable line that follow the placement of the main rhyme of the stanza marked by a caesura. When the main rhyme of the stanza appears within the body in the last half of a 10 syllable line the syllables following that main rhyme and caesura is the gair cyrch. eg x x x x x x A - x x x, it could also appear as x x x x x x x A - x B, the "A" being the main rhyme which is echoed as end rhyme throughout the stanza and the "B" being a secondary rhyme. The secondary rhyme is usually echoed in the early to mid part of the next line. The caesura following the main rhyme is often a dash -.
  • measurau (meters) Welsh poetry is written in quantitative verse, meaning as best as I can interpret, the line is measured by counting the number of long and short vowel sounds. This does not transpose well into English, therefore most English writers treat Welsh verse as syllabic, simply counting syllables. There will be some occasions where the long and short vowel sounds will have to be considered because they are intrinsically part of the form, especially when using half rhyme.
  • mesurau rhyddion (free meters), a term used to describe any poems written outside of the Official 24 Meters. This term emerged in the 16th century to conveniently categorize poetry not using the strict meters.
  • proest (half rhyme). The following explanation of half rhyme is from An introduction to Welsh Poetry by Gwyn Williams. Once you read it, you'll understand my reluctance to tackle the subject in my own words.

    " Of the final vowel and consonant in a word, only one of the two corresponds to that in another word. The vowel may be the same and the consonant different, or vice versa. Long vowels only half-rhyme with long vowels, and short with short. In English, "mode" half-rhymes with "speed" but not with "bid." The long O sound matches with the long E plus the consonant d."

    Welsh diphthongs are divided into two groups. The diphthongs within any one group half-rhyme with each other, but not with those in the other group. The first group includes the diphthongs ae, oe, wy, ei, and ai. The second includes aw, ew, iw, ow, yw. In English, "toy" half-rhymes with "way" and "too" with "see."

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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